This site is a work-in-progress. There is a massive amount to cover. I have included both male and female lines, and some go back 30 generations. Keep coming back for more.

I have numbered the generations working backwards from my own as (1)






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JOHN COOK was born in Mariansleigh, the son of the unmarried Elizabeth Cook.

Baptism. Mariansleigh.

1771 June the 28 John the Son of Elizabeth Cook Base Child was baptized.


A West Country sheep farmer


As we move into the 19 th century, the parish registers begin to give more information about people. We know that John Cook was a ‘husbandman’. This was a farmer who worked a small amount of land. His status lay between that of an agricultural labourer, who hired out his services, and a yeoman, who had a more substantial farm. Farms might be leased on quite a short tenancy, and the husbandman might have to move on.

Sheep were the most important aspect of farming in North Devon. Their wool was essential for the woollen industry for which Devon was famous.


John was first married to Betty Selley in Mariansleigh. She may be the daughter of Amos Selley and Elizabeth, baptised in Mariansleigh on 19 Feb 1769 or of Justinian and Sarah Selley, baptised on 26 Sep 1773.

1794  John Cooke (Husbandman) and Betty Selley Spinster


But this marriage soon ended with Betty’s death.


1795  Betty Cooke was buried June 18


Eight years later, John remarried.


CATHERINE THORNE was born in Filleigh, between Barnstaple and South Molton, in 1780. She was the daughter of the husbandman William Thorne and Margaret Ferrier .

Baptism. Filleigh.

1780 Catheryn Dr of Wm & Peggy Thorn Ap 9 1780

She was the sixth of seven children. All were girls, except for her brother William, who was eleven years older.

The Filleigh burial register at this time does not give any relationship for children and women. But it is likely that the Margaret Thorn who was buried in 1792 was Catherine’s mother. Catherine would then have been 12. She could not write, and her brother William was barely literate in his 30s.

At some time before her marriage at the age of 23, Catherine moved to the village of Mariansleigh, six miles away. She was ‘spinster of this parish’, so had not arrived recently. The Thorne family first enter the Mariansleigh registers in 1800, when William and Ann Thorne had their son James baptised, followed by a daughter Mary in 1803. Since a William Thorne witnessed her marriage, this is almost certainly her brother, who did not raise a family in Filleigh. It may have been his presence there which brought Catherine to Mariansleigh, or they may have moved there together.


Marriage. 30 March 1803. Mariansleigh.

John Cook, Husbandman, and Catherine Thorne, Spinster, both of this parish.

Signed: John Cook

The mark + of Catherine Thorne.

In the presence of William Thorne (barely literate)

Robert Eastmond.


Catherine was 22 and John 31. She was three months pregnant.


She bore John only two children.

Baptisms. Mariansleigh.

1803. William son of John & Catherine Cook was baptized Sep 11.

1805. Susanna , Daughter of John & Catherine Cooke was baptized July 21.

It was the custom for men to give their eldest son the name of their own father. Since John had no acknowledged father, they may have named their son after Catherine’s father.

It was the same year, 1803, that Henry and Sarah Harris had their first recorded child baptised in Mariansleigh. Like Catherine , Sarah , née Fooke , had also been born in Filleigh, 21 years before Catherine.


Catherine’s father died in 1815. He left varying sums of money to his children. Catherine’s bequest of £6.3.6d was one of the smaller ones. She also had an eighth share in the trust set up with the residue of his estate.

By that time, her brother William had moved a few miles away to Kings Nympton, where he was a yeoman farmer.


John and Catherine’s son William did not follow his father in agriculture, but became a shoemaker. He had children of his own baptised in Mariansleigh.

1803   Dec 10 Sophia daur of William & Elizabeth Cook. Mary. Shoemaker.

1805  28 Aug William son of William & Elizabeth Cook. Mariansleigh. Shoemaker

Their daughter Susanna married Henry and Sarah Harris’s son, Robert , who in time became a yeoman farmer in Mariansleigh.


John and Catherine lived long enough to appear in the 1841 census for Mariansleigh. On the enumerator’s handwritten return, both the name of their cottage and their surname appears to be Cock. There could be a faint upstroke on the second vowel, making it ‘o’ rather than ‘c’, or the enumerator may have misheard their answers. Either way, the correct return would read:

1841 Census. Cook Cottages, Mariansleigh.

   John Cook   65   Ag Lab   y

   Catherine Do.   60     y

In this early census, the ages of adults were rounded down to 5 or 10. John was in fact nearly 70. Catherine was 61. The ‘y’ stands for ‘yes’, meaning that both were born in Devon.

It was common for cottages to be named after the people living in them. We do not know if John and Catherine had always lived there, nor whether it had also been the home of earlier Cooks. The other part of Cook’s Cottages was occupied by the 80-year-old pauper, Dorothy Rock. A pair of cottages was often made by dividing what had previously been a small farmhouse.

The most significant information is the change in John’s occupation from husbandman to agricultural labourer. It is possible that by the turn of the century, ‘husbandman’ had become a euphemism for a farm labourer, but it also reflects the decline in agriculture and the fact that it was no longer viable for a family to survive on the small-scale farming of a husbandman. Many had to abandon their independence and work for someone else.

The same census shows their shoemaker son William living with his wife and three children in a ‘Cottage in Maryansley Village’. This suggests that Cook’s Cottages lay a little outside the village, but it was near enough for John and Catherine to be recorded as living in Mariansleigh when they died a few years later. Their daughter Susan was living further out at Triddencott Farm with her yeoman husband Robert and five children.


Though Catherine was nine years younger than John , she was the first to die.

Burial: Mariansleigh.

Catherine Cooke Mariansleigh 1845 May 5th 68

John Cooke Mariansleigh 1847 July 17 77




Next Generation: 5. HARRIS-COOK

Previous Generations: 7. COOK



The search for a farm labourer

ancestor leads to a murder.